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This Plastic-Eating Bacteria May Be The Answer to Our Waste Problem

Apr 09, 2016 10:31 AM EDT

Plastics are found everywhere in the environment that it seems like we simply cannot do without it. To completely avoid plastic may be a farfetched dream, but much can be done if every person is willing to save our planet.

One of the most common plastics is the polyethylene terephthalate, or PET, which is used to make plastic bottles. Their accumulation has become a major global issue, with nearly 50 million tons of PET being dumped in a year. 

The good news is that scientists have discovered a kind of bacteria that breaks down PET. According to the report published in journal Sciences, scientists described this bacteria as able to break down the molecular bonds of polyethylene terephthalate, also known as polyester.

The bacteria are named Ideonella sakaiensis 201-F6, and it can reportedly eat plastic in six weeks with a temperature of 86 degrees Fahrenheit or higher.

This bacterium breaks the bonds of plastic by using the enzymes to hydrolyze PET and primary reaction intermediate, thus breaking down PET to its basic blocks.

Dr. Tracy Mincer, a researcher at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution said: "This is the first rigorous study--it appears to be very carefully done--that I have seen that shows plastic being hydrolyzed [broken down] by bacteria."

With further research, these bacteria might be our best solution for our continuously pressing problem involving plastic wastes. For now, waste reduction and proper waste management are still highly important.

Other innovations also show promise, such as the edible and biodegradable plastic bottle made of algae.

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